Scientists Find Mysterious "Quasicrystals" That Couldn't Have Formed on Earth

Monday, 13 June 2016 - 4:42PM
Earth
Monday, 13 June 2016 - 4:42PM
Scientists Find Mysterious "Quasicrystals" That Couldn't Have Formed on Earth
Quasicrystals are an extremely rare occurrence, which is to say they have only actually occurred on Earth once that we know of. Now, scientists believe they have found an explanation for these mysterious formations, which they claim could only have formed in outer space.

Quasicrystals are an unusual type of crystal that has a structure that is ordered, but not periodic. In other words, the patterns in its atoms are regular, so they have similar properties to other crystals like diffusion and refraction, but it lacks translational symmetry, so the patterns never repeat. We've grown these structures in labs, but there is only one recorded instance of quasicrystals being found on Earth.

Now, there might be a perfectly reasonable explanation for that. Researchers from Caltech have published research which claims that the crystals form through shock compression, or by applying extremely powerful electric shocks to certain naturally occurring materials, which is a "mechanism that is feasible in space but not in any natural setting on Earth." 

It is, however, feasible in space. These types of electric shocks could potentially occur during collisions in the asteroid belt, and since the quasicrystals were traced back to meteorites, it only makes sense that they formed in space during these collisions, and then fell to Earth as meteorites. 

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"We knew the meteorite had been shocked, we speculated that the shock might be the magic ingredient you needed, and it worked the first time we tried it," Asimow told Gizmodo. "That suggests to us that it might not be that hard [to make naturally occurring quasicrystals], if you have the right starting materials and a shock of about the right strength."
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